Vocational education making a comeback at Cloquet High SchoolThe Cloquet School Board took two steps toward closing its anticipated budget deficit at its Monday meeting, voting to trim 10 days of instructional time from the 2012-13 school calendar and changing the scheduling for developmental kindergarten classes.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet School Board took two steps toward closing its anticipated budget deficit at its Monday meeting, voting to trim 10 days of instructional time from the 2012-13 school calendar and changing the scheduling for developmental kindergarten classes.
The 10 lost days will be made up by slightly longer school days, with Cloquet High School’s day becoming approximately 10 minutes longer starting next fall. Developmental kindergarten will be held for full days on alternate days beginning next fall, with Fridays added as needed.
The school calendar measure passed the board unanimously, but the kindergarten schedule change received opposition from board member Duane Buytaert. That measure passed 4-1, with board member Dave Battaglia absent.
“We needed to come to a decision on these items quickly,” Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. “This isn’t a good thing because we have 10 days less contact with students, but if we didn’t do this we would need to find an additional $200,000 in savings.”
The two measures are expected to save approximately $300,000 in transportation costs, with further budget-trimming measures expected from administration in the coming weeks. The district faces an anticipated shortfall of $686,000 for the current school year.
However, an audience member and one board member expressed concern about shortening instructional time.
“What will kids lose over those 10 days?” paraprofessional and union representative Judy Nelson asked during public comment. “I’m afraid we’ll give up the educational gains we have made. I could make myself the most unpopular person in the district by saying this, but I’d cut extracurriculars across the board [instead of cutting school days].”
“The only way I support [the calendar change] is if we look at every minute of time spent in school that isn’t instructional,” board member Sandy Crowley said. “That includes things like movies, trips and fun days. They are good motivators but we need instructional time.”
Crowley added that Scarbrough had made “responsible” decisions on schedule alteration, but that she still wanted to see as much school time as possible devoted to instruction. An amended resolution, which was then passed, called on administration to present the board with a specific list of areas where added instructional time could be found.
However, even in the atmosphere of budget cuts, the board received a favorable report from CHS principal Warren Peterson about adding vocational education classes.
A survey of CHS students taken on Feb. 1 showed 49 percent of freshmen, 35 percent of sophomores, 41 percent of juniors and 47 percent of seniors expressed interest in non-four-year colleges.
“There is clearly a significant percentage of our population that may benefit from a program of high skill/high pay careers, falling outside of the traditional four-year college track,” Peterson said in a memorandum. “Our survey identified areas of interest that our students listed, related to trades, skills, and career interests.”
In his memorandum, Peterson recommended waiting until the 2013-14 school year before starting a program, due to the need for having a prudent long-term plan in place before starting, but board member Jim Crowley said he was concerned that students desiring such programs might leave the district in the meantime.
“I’m concerned about kids falling through the cracks,” he said.
Peterson was directed to submit a timetable for adding a program for the next meeting. The estimated cost of starting a vocational education program, including faculty costs, was roughly estimated at between $75,000 and $90,000.
“If the board decides to add such a program, the fund balance could absorb it for a time,” Scarbrough said, “but the board would have funding decisions it would have to make.”
Board accepts Thudin’s retirement
The board also accepted a letter of retirement from Washington School principal Randy Thudin, who is leaving this spring after 16 years in his post.
To find a replacement, Scarbrough recommended setting up a steering committee consisting of educators and board members with the eventual goal of a series of interviews including a public event with the school board.
Scarbrough would like to have applications received by the end of March, leaving time for interviews and public input before the end of the school year.
Changes at “The Beach”
The board also approved changes to the staff manuals for “The Beach,” the city outdoor swimming pond administered by Cloquet Community Education.
Director Sara Liimatainen noted that the rules will change for this year to allow no unsupervised swimming by children under age 10, with children aged 6 and under required to have an adult in the water with them at all times.
The new manual will also contain a policy for groups of swimmers. Liimatainen said such a policy did not exist last year.
“Groups will have to register in advance and will be checked to make sure the correct ratios of swimmers to chaperones is present before they will be allowed in,” she said. “The ratios are now mandated.”